The town of Almeria lies in a broad bay overlooked by mountains. This part of Andalusia is one of the driest regions on the Iberian peninsula - indeed the whole of Europe. Almeria's harbour is one of the busiest on the Spanish Mediterranean coast. Exports include iron ore from the mines in the Sierra de los Filabres and agricultural produce from the Andrax basin and the other valleys along the coastal strip, where early fruit crops are grown under polythene. Thanks to its hot, dry climate in summer and very mild winters - some 3,000 hours of sunshine a year - Almeria has become an important centre for solar energy technology as well as a major tourist centre.
Towering over the Old Town are the ruins of the Alcazaba, which can be reached on foot from the Plaza de la Constitucion (Tuesday to Sunday, 9am-8.30pm; winter - reduced times). This imposing fortification consisting of three battlemented compounds was begun under Abd ar Rahman III, the first caliph of Cordoba. The last major additions date from the time of Catholic Monarchs. Excavation work in the second compound has exposed the ground plan of the former palace. The Torre del Homanaje (15th century) and the upper area has largely survived the ravages of time. A defensive wall links the Alcazaba site with the Castillo de San Cristobal on the neighbouring hill.
Almeria's cathedral is sited close to the Plaza de la Constitucion. Work started on the church in 1524, on the site of a mosque destroyed in an earthquake two years earlier. During the 16th century the town was under constant threat from Turkish and Berber pirates, which explains why the main body of the cathedral is fortified with four towers. The severe overall impression is lightened somewhat by Renaissance portals. The most impressive feature of the triple-nave interior is an array of carved choir stalls (1560) by Juan de Orea.
You can reach the harbour from the rear of the cathedral. If you take the Nicolas Salmeron seaside promenade towards the east, you will come to Avenido de Frederico Garcia Lorca, which serves as the boundary between the old and new town. In the Centro de Artes, near the railway station, there are interesting exhibitions of primarily contemporary art.
The overall impression of Almeria is anything but uniform. The Chanca gypsy quarter between the Old Town and the Alcazaba, the old fashioned shopping lanes, the modern facades in Paseo de Almeria and the harbour combine to form a diverse and interesting cityscape.
An interesting excursion, 24 km to the north east of Almeria is the Sierra de Alhamilla. This dry, inhospitable place could easily be mistaken for Arizona, and some film producers have sought to recreate the Wild West here. Many people will recognise the backdrop from the Italian 'Spaghetti Westerns' directed by Sergio Leone, or from Lawrence of Arabia.
The full scale, Western stage set at Mini Hollywood (by the N340) welcome visitors, who can enjoy live cowboy performances (daily noon and 5pm; mid June to mid September, also at 8pm).
Almeria has grown upwards and outwards over the decades but there is still something enchanting about this city. It's always bustling; I like this feel of hectic activity especially around the port area and I love all the road signs written in Arabic. Some say the city has lost its charm, I have to disagree. I know Almeria inside out, every narrow street, quirky shop and I even know the best place to buy marine equipment from. It's hot, dusty, manic, loud and a lot of fun! My kind of Mediterranean city.